Is the foster care to prison pipeline the only answer for children whose parents have mental health conditions? Addictions?

Parents, Mental illness, Homelessness, Addiction, Foster Care, Prisons

A social worker recently confronted me with her concerns about parents who have been diagnosed with mental illness and homeless families. I have to agree with her that there are problems that should be addressed. However, my personal belief is that family units should be preserved whenever possible.

Right now, state and federal governments are just beginning to make policy changes that are required by the Family First Preservation Act of 2018. Three years later states have not implemented the new law! Currently, as in the past decades, services are geared towards adoptive and foster families.

Biological family is almost always overlooked because before the Family First Act of 2018 the funding was only provided to states if the children were taken out of their homes, away from their entire families, and placed in out-of-home placements with complete strangers.

This led to children being crammed into group homes, stranger’s houses, and out-of-state placements with complete strangers. Many of the children are abused in the state placements and end up running away. Sometimes the children are killed in state placements. The children’s parent’s lives are also negatively affected. Their lives spiral out of control and become filled with grief, anger, and loss. Grandparent’s lives are also saddened and cut shorter by negative emotional and financial burdens that occur when governments destroy family units.

Children will run away and parent’s lives spiral out of control. The system causes more harm than good so new laws were made and states are supposed to be making the needed changes.

My response is as follows: Homelessness can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Mental health issues can also lead to homelessness.

Depression, unshakeable feelings of dread, despair, loneliness, and hopelessness seem to be leading signs and causes of suicide. Most of the suicide letters that I have seen include statements about “not seeing a way out”, or that the family “will be better off without me”. The context is usually about child support and custody situations taking place in family courts.

Families are for the most part ill-equipped to handle a family member with a mental condition. Most everyday people do not know how to deal with mental illnesses. That is why the jails are overcrowded. We need more NAMI’s to help everyday people cope with these kinds of issues. The National Alliance of Mental Health Illness (NAMI) has volunteers and paid counselors that can help individuals, family members, teens, youth, veterans, and others dealing with mental health issues.

America has a problem!

Family is the foundation of any society and courts are tearing our families apart! Parents who suffer from mental conditions fall into even deeper despair when their families are destroyed and they are told that they can never be parents because of their condition.

Studies also show that there is a high prevalence of mental illness in the foster care population and that many of the children will be homeless when they age out. When they age out, they do not have access to the drugs they have been prescribed to “help them cope” while they were in foster care. They turn to street drugs because the state’s literally have them addicted to prescription medicines they no longer have access to. Homeless people have difficulty accessing healthcare.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCLS) has collected data that tells us that children are prescribed doses higher than the maximum levels cited in guidelines developed by the FDA and that legislative action is being taken to address how states are doing this (NCSL, 2021).

The last I looked over 300,000 children less than a year old were prescribed adult doses of medications. Some I would guess were born of parents that were either taking street drugs or prescribed medications, but even if they were born addicted to some substance the amounts of psychotropic drugs they are being prescribed is concerning. What will their lives turn out to be like with no family ties and a bunch of pills to ease the pain?

The cost:

Serious mental illness costs the United States an estimated $193.2 billion in lost earnings annually and only about 41% of persons with a mental disorder receive any treatment. Mentally ill patients are at higher risks of becoming homeless and homeless people do not have access to medical care and experience higher rates of adverse physical and mental health conditions, suicides, substance abuse, and respiratory diseases.

SAMSHA’s national mental health statistics show that yearly, about 42.5 million (18.2%) American adults suffer from some mental illness. Approximately 9.3 million adults (4%), experience severe mental illness that interferes with their daily lives. Nearly half, (45%) of those with any mental disorder meet criteria for two or more disorders, with severity strongly related to comorbidity. Mood disorders affect about 20.9 million American adults (9.5%) with the median age being around 30 years old.

Foster children are considered homeless:

Homelessness does lead to bigger problems for an individual and for society. People with mental conditions and former foster children make up much of the homeless and prison populations. Only about 25% of foster children receive medical services though all are eligible for them. Foster children are simply bounced around too much for anyone to keep up with doctor’s appointments.

Foster care:

Reports showed that 50% of the girls in foster care become pregnant before 19 years of age, many (about half) before 18 years of age, 50% of foster children will be in prison within two years of aging out and 74% of foster children will end up in prison, 80% of the people on death row were in foster care (HHS, DOJ, Casey Family Foundation, National Coalition for Foster Children). Less than 3% of foster children will go to college!

The foster care system is broken and parents are having difficulty working through mental health and legal systems. Foster children don’t stand a chance! They are too young to advocate for themselves and are often passed through several homes. Usually more than one a month! They don’t get to have a permanent doctor or team to help them make it through life. This results in missed appointments, miscommunications, and a lack of proper care. Only about 25% of foster children receive services at any given time (Polihronakis, Tina, 2017).

Legislation:

Legislation was made a few years ago to provide for pediatricians to address mental health conditions in children, but are they actually qualified to make the diagnoses and help the child through what is happening in their lives to a healthy recovery. What I see is pediatricians prescribing medications for mental health issues and discussing it with lawyers and social workers instead of doctors and family members. 

Besides, if the workers cared about the laws that we already have on the books there wouldn’t be a problem. They do not care about laws. Laws do not apply to them because they can claim qualified immunity.

As Christians, I believe that we have to do better. In Biblical times children became orphans when their parents died. In today’s times, even Mary would be under fire by the state. After all, she did ride around the desert on a donkey, homeless and some would say hallucinating because she said she talked to angels and they talked to her. Jesus was not born in a hospital. He wasn’t even born in a house. Jesus was born in a barn. When I think about how to deal with homelessness, mental illness, and foster care, I have to think of it from a Christian perspective and ask myself, What would Jesus do?

Minding Hearts is building advocacy and peer support groups in each state.  The groups are created to raise awareness, educate, and advocate for those that might not otherwise be heard. We are here for encouragement, education, and support. We cannot give legal advice, but we can try and direct you in the right direction with your case. Links to legal services are listed with their states. Please share and let’s grow our groups. We are here to support families and develop resources that maintain family integrity. We look forward to your support. If you would rather become active by donating, then visit the donation page..

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References

Casey Family Programs, (2021), https://www.casey.org/

Health.am, (2015), Mental Health Disorder Statistics, http://www.health.am/psy/more/mental-health-disorder-statistics/

KJV, King James Version of the Holy Bible, https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/

NAMI, (2021), National Alliance on Mental Illness, https://www.nami.org/home

NCSL, (2021), National Conference of State Legislatures, https://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/mental-health-and-foster-care.aspx

Polihronakis, Tina, (2017), Information Packet: Mental Health Care Issues of Children and Youth in Foster Care, http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/socwork/nrcfcpp/downloads/information_packets/Mental_Health.pdf

SAMHSA, (2021),  mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, https://www.samhsa.gov/

Shi, L., & Singh, D. A. (2019). Essentials of the U.S. health care system with access (5th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning. ISBN: 9781284156720.

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